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car review

The Ford Fiesta still has a few bugs.Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

There's a lot to like about the refreshed 2014 Ford Fiesta: hot looks, great fuel economy – even in real-world driving – and a high-tech MyFord Touch infotainment system to give its upscale interior even more futuristic pizzazz.

But Fiesta owners' forums are full of complaints with Ford's smallest North American offering, many surrounding its advanced but issue-plagued PowerShift six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, concerns backed up by subpar reliability ratings in Consumer Reports and J.D. Power rankings.

Ford is expanding its 2014 offerings now with the extra-spicy Fiesta ST performance hot hatch, which offers 197 hp and acceleration to challenge its larger and more powerful Focus ST big brother. By the end of 2013, another turbocharged Fiesta will appear, the three-cylinder Fiesta with EcoBoost. It relinquishes the usual fourth cylinder to become the mid-level engine offering that promises notably more low-end oomph than the standard model, while using less fuel than what's already one of the lightest sippers of gasoline among stingy subcompact cars. Ford hasn't released any official fuel consumption numbers for the three-pot, but suggests it will be the most efficient non-hybrid on the market.

We spent most of a day behind the wheel of a fully loaded Fiesta Titanium five-door, back and forth between Ottawa and Gatineau, with a quick sampling of the Fiesta ST on a parking lot autocross course. The ST easily outshone the Hyundai Veloster Turbo dynamically, though it would be a closer battle with the Mini Cooper S.

The regular Fiesta hatchback's playful exterior was left largely untouched for 2014, with reworked spoilers and new 15- and 16-inch wheels the biggest clues for new-car spotters. It's still one of the sharpest dressers in the segment, right at the top in hatchback form perhaps, even if it no longer offers the upscale LED headlights that the Kia Rio5 does.

But you will miss some of the Rio5's more extravagant options inside, especially its optional heated steering wheel or its cooled seats. This latter feature may seem overkill on a budget-minded economy car, but more than once – from both driver and passenger seats – I checked the heated seat switch to see if my driving partner had sneakily set it on a subtle rump roast setting without me noticing.

A loose transmission housing on our test unit suggested that quality questions on the Mexico-built Fiesta have not been resolved. But overall, the vehicle seemed tight and of high quality for the low-budget class.

The Fiesta's rivals don't offer anything like Ford's high-tech MyFord Touch inside, a new option this year that helps modernize the interior with a high-tech look and increased voice and connectivity options. Some drivers may miss the hard radio station preset buttons, or lament the same tight space in the rear seat and trunk, but the push-button starter, leather-capped steering wheel and ice-blue-lit cup-holders further the interior's funky ambience.

The Ford's PowerShift automatic has been noticeably refined in the 2014 model to be less jerky in city traffic especially, though it still doesn't offer the paddle shifters that a dual-clutch transmission should. Instead, there's a subtle plus/minus button on the shifter, which can be toggled back and forth, if you've pushed passed D into S mode.

The Fiesta's fuel consumption numbers suggest it's at the top of its class, with an overall EPA average of 7.4 litres/100 km.

Perhaps the most significant question for potential Fiesta buyers is its out-the-door price. Our fully loaded Titanium worked out to an as-tested MSRP of $25,527 after freight but before taxes, though Ford's Canadian consumer build site noted that current incentives of almost two grand would bring that amount down to $23,563. Most compact cars start around 16 large, with transaction prices right around that same low to mid-20s sweet spot. So even after such rebates, the regular Fiesta is priced close to larger, more comfortable compacts with similarly low fuel consumption.

The Fiesta ST and upcoming EcoBoost models offer more unique appeal, though both will debut with only manual transmissions that will quickly cross themselves off many buyers' shopping lists. That may yet change, as will – hopefully – the Fiesta's reliability record, as Ford has pledged to improve the brand's recent lacklustre results.

Tech specs

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium 5-door

Type: Subcompact hatchback

Base price: $14,499 for S; as tested, $25,527 ($23,563 w/navi and options, after Employee Discount)

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 120 hp/112 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/5.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris

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